Ironman Wisconsin 2018- Ironman #10 .
What doesn’t challenge us, doesn’t change us. Isn’t that what they say? That’s why I keep coming back to this crazy distance. I wasn’t going to write anything about this race, mostly because I am feeling a weird combination of pride and disappointment. Being pulled off the course at Ironman Canada was a real low point for me as an athlete. I have never not finished what I’ve started, even if it was going to be ugly. It’s the one thing I usually can count on- I might not be the fastest, but I always get the job done. Except on July 29th. It kind of haunted me. After the initial rush of emotions that resulted in me saying, out loud “ I’m retired from Ironman, I’m never doing this again”, I knew that that just wasn’t who I am. So I signed up for my absolute FAVORITE RACE ON THE CIRCUIT. Ironman Wisconsin. No matter how this race was going to go – I was SO EXCITED to be back.
Probably the most important piece of luggage other than my bike
This season has been weird for me. I’ve seen huge improvements in training, and my 70.3 distance racing has really come along. I managed to sign up for some of the slowest races available to me ( I say slowest, not hardest, because they are all hard- some are just faster than others). I performed well. Despite a 12th place finish at St George 70.3 I was SUPER proud of that effort .I executed my race plan perfectly, and despite a fall that resulted in a knee injury that kept me from running for 5 weeks, I put up a really respectable time for that course. The competition was JUST that good.
I got a new bike and spent months trying to fine tune the fit ( its still not 100%, as you will see coming up) but I came in 4th overall at Buffalo Springs ( 2nd AG) despite some crazy conditions that day (30 mph winds, 106 degree temps). Slow race, but I was proud. I was feeling ready for a good ironman effort.
But, twice the distance means twice the complications. One day- all the pieces of the puzzle will come together. But until then, I’ll keep chipping away slowly. I havn’t been blessed with a great deal of natural athletic talent (it just doesn’t run in the family 😉 ) so tiny, seemingly imperceptible improvements are usually the result of A LOT of hard work behind the scenes.
Ok so here we are, Ironman Wisconsin:
Before Race day : We got into Madison late Wednesday night, and I had planned on working remotely Thursday and Friday ( I hadn’t really budgeted extra days off). First thing Thursday morning I built up my bike, realized it needed a little attention by a professional, so I went to expo RIGHT as it opened. The Trek guys were awesome, fixed up my bike in 30 minutes and gave it a safety check. While that was happening I registered for the race, easy peasy.
The hotel we were staying at was old. Really old. It smelled musty and frankly, moldy. I am not the kind of person to complain so we just took the room. By Saturday, my throat was scratchy and my nose was runny and I felt like I was going to be sick. I’m allergic to mold. I was NOT about to let a musty hotel room ruin my race. I sent Jeff out for an air purifier, while I headed downstairs to insist on a new room, which I thought was a long shot. Sure enough- they had an open room available, on the renovated side of the hotel ( Why didn’t you just give me the good room to begin with?). Within 24 hours I was feeling better. That little air purifier made the trip home with us.
I also experienced some concerning knee pain on my first shake out ride. I had made several changes to my bike fit and to my cleat position in the recent weeks, and I was concerned the change to my left cleat (that I had made myself) was somehow “wrong”. I rushed into Rocket Cycle where the bike fitter put me on the trainer right away and told me everything looked perfect. Except that my body, specifically my previously injured knee, hadn’t had enough time to adjust to the new position. Muscles that hadn’t been worked in months were all of a sudden being asked to ride hard. The only advice she could give me was to roll, roll, roll. So I did. Every day. 3 times a day. And my shake out rides got better and better. Except the longest ride was 45 minutes, so I knew race day was going to be a gamble.
Swim: Right before I got in line for the swim, I ripped a 2 inch hole in my wet suit, because WHY NOT. We tried to tape it up but it wouldn’t stick. So I just rolled with it. What can you do.
Ironman Wisconsin was a mass start up until a couple years ago when it was changed to a rolling time trial start. While I understand the logic in changing it to a rolling start, I miss the mass start. It was so special.
I kissed Jeff goodbye before he headed off to his volunteer shift in t1, I took my last gel, and got in line in the 1:00-1:10 pace group. I am Steady Eddy when it comes to IM swims- they always fall between 1:05-1:10 depending on the conditions. Madison had experienced some pretty severe flooding in the weeks leading into the race, so the fact we were swimming at all was a miracle. Water levels were 12 inches higher than normal, and the lake was filled with debris. My practice swim the day before the race was ROUGH, and I told myself to expect a swim 10-15 minutes slower than normal. On race morning though, it seemed to have calmed down just a tiny bit.
Gun goes off and I get in the water within 3 minutes or so of race start. You could feel the chop right away. I managed to find some feet to draft behind until we got to the first buoy. That first turn was chaotic- we were swimming directly into the chop at this point, so the swim was a FIGHT. But, I love swimming, I spend a lot of time pushing my swim fitness at masters so I stayed calmed and found my rhythm. After the last turn buoy, I looked at my watch and saw 57 minutes. I knew I would come in around 1:10 by the time I got to shore- and I was TOTALLY ok with that on the day. Honestly, the swim felt eternal, and looking at the data, it seems it was a touch long. Those buoys were never going to be able to stay in place with the way the wind was blowing.
T1: Ironman Wisconsin has annoyingly long transitions- out of the water, run up the helix ( around and around the parking structure 4 times) through the conference room, into changing tent, then out to parking lot to get the bike. This was complicated further this year by the swim being moved down the road a ways because of the flooding. So T1 was long. What can you do. Running up the helix is the BEST PART OF THIS RACE. You feel like a rock star- just for a second. 6 minutes or so to make it all the way through.
Up the Helix
and back down
Bike: Sigh- what do I say about this ride? Other than it started out perfectly. Hitting watts, feeling comfortable, (EASY almost). But somewhere, 2 hours into the ride, my knee started to hurt. I tried not to panic, I gave it a little break on some of the down hills, even rubbed it here and there ( which made it feel better), but by the time I hit special needs, I knew I was heading towards trouble. I finished the “stick” (the way out of town) and the first loop right around my projected time (3 hours or so) but my knee was really starting to hurt. This course is challenging, no doubt, but honestly the climbing felt easy – I was ready. I trained for these hills. By the time I made it back to the “3 sisters” – the three most challenging climbs on the course that you do twice – I was just begging to be put out of my misery. Power was dropping, and I was so uncomfortable. But I still had the long slog back into town. Luckily Jeff and our friend Karin had made their way out to mile 102. I managed to crack a smile – almost back! That ride took over 6.5 hours. Ouch.
Up the helix on the bike and into T2
T2: if anyone needs transition advice for long course I am happy to help 😉 This is the one thing I know how to do consistently lol. IN AND OUT. No time for dawdling. Even if you feel like crap. Less than 3 minutes in a very long T2. Thank you to my wonderful volunteer who noticed I had put my right arm into the left side of my jersey
Run: There is nothing worse than STARTING a marathon with knee pain. But, I LOVE THIS MARATHON. Everyone in the town is out partying, and the spectator energy is amazing. I was in kind of a dark place, but honestly despite my knee pain, running didn’t feel bad. Stomach was good ( which means my nutrition on the bike went well), and my legs weren’t flat. I was just experiencing 10/10 knee pain. Every step was painful. I usually use some mental tricks to get through the run. I don’t let myself count miles until half way- which was the first loop of this run.
No counting until mile 13.
Countdown to Mile 20
“Just get to mile 24”
Last 2 miles are what I call “the Victory Lap”. it really doesn’t matter how bad you are feeling. By the time you get to the last 2 miles the crowds are starting to grow and it’s time to celebrate the day.
The run is extremely spectator friendly, which is good because I needed several pep talks from Jeff. I told myself that I HAD TO RUN until I saw Jeff, then I would use that time to give my knee a break and walk- get a pep talk and keep going. It actually worked out pretty well. I was doubting myself and my abilities. I was mad that I was having another suboptimal Ironman race. But there was no way in hell I was going to stop.
I don’t really have much to say about the execution of this run other than I really did everything I could to manage the way I was feeling. I carried a hand bottle for the first 13 miles filled with my custom Infinit formula and I made sure to get plenty in during the first half of the run. I supplemented with Cola and ice. At mile 13 I dropped the bottle to free myself from the weight of it and relied solely on coke, Gatorade, oranges and ice. My trail running experience definitely helped here- sometimes once you start walking its hard to stop. Except trail running is mostly run/walking, so walking for a short period of time and then starting to run again is no big deal for me.
I saw so many friends and familiar faces while on course that lifted my spirits. I saw Wattie teammates absolutely CRUSHING it. What an amazing day. As I approached the state capital to make the final turn into the finishing shoot I remembered what’s so special about this race. There is absolutely no finish line like Ironman Wisconsin. My face however, might tell you I was having a miserable time….
One day, ill get the full Iron distance right. Until then, I will be grateful for a healthy body that continues to put out these efforts, for an amazingly supportive husband to share this crazy life with, a coach that pushes my boundaries, and incredibly inspiring teammates that make me want to be a better athlete.
Wisconsin, I’m sure I’ll be back.